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'Alarming' Trend of Dolphin Deaths Hitting East Coast Shores

From New Jersey to Florida, the "sentinels of ocean health" are turning up dead

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Bottlenose dolphins (Photo: Jeff Kraus/cc/flickr)States along the east coast are witnessing an "alarming" trend of dead dolphins washing up on their shores.

Virginia has had 100 dolphin carcasses on its shores this year.  Twenty-five dead or dying bottlenose dolphins have washed up on New Jersey shores since July 9, while Maryland and Delaware have seen several dead dolphins on its shores this summer. And in July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries declared an Unusual Mortality Event for bottlenose dolphins in Florida's Indian River Lagoon, where 50 dead dolphins have been found, a number three times the historical average.

"It is alarming since it's much higher than normal and in such a short amount of time," the Baltimore Sun quotes Jennifer Dittmar, the stranding coordinator for the National Aquarium in Baltimore as saying. "As far as an overall effect it's having on the population, it's hard to tell right now."

Scientists aren't sure what's causing the deaths at this point, though Susan Barco, research coordinator for the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, said the strandings are "eerily familiar" to mass die-off of dolphins in 1987 when the measles-like morbillivirus brought 750 dolphin carcases to shores between New Jersey and Florida.

One expert says the die-off may be issuing a warning about the health of the ocean.

"This is really frightening because these animals are sentinels of ocean health," the Baltimore Sun quotes Barco as saying.  "Strandings have been much more common in the past few decades, and we think it's an indication of the health of our ecosystem."

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